What Awaits North Carolina on Friday Night
The brilliance of the NCAA Soccer season is that once it begins, it’s an unrelenting tidal wave, with matches coming hard and fast. There’s at least one match every day until late October, so things are bound to change quickly and often from now through Selection Monday. There are some tasty morsels to savor right off the bat on Friday. Here are the most interesting matches of Day One. All times listed are Eastern Standard Time.
Notre Dame – Minnesota (5:30)
It’s a case of national title or bust for Notre Dame who have all the pieces in place to win it all in 2010. They’ll be hosting a Minnesota team who will have no shortage of motivation after last year’s NCAA Tournament snub. A win in South Bend would go a long way in getting them there this year.
St. John’s – Michigan State (in College Station, Texas) (5:30)
The Johnnies made a habit of keeping it tight against more talented opponents on a frequent basis last season, beating the likes of USC and UConn in the process while also giving teams like Notre Dame and Virginia fits. More of the same could be in order on neutral ground against a Michigan State team that may be overly dependent on the goals of Laura Heyboer if a replacement for Lauren Hill can’t be found quickly.
USC – San Diego (6:00)
The Toreros are the first visitors to USC’s unique home by a hotel parking lot, McAlister Field. With all the hype surrounding Portland and Santa Clara, it’s pretty easy to forget that San Diego’s a pretty good WCC team in their own right. The Trojans have their sights set on getting back to the College Cup, but don’t count out the Toreros to cause a first day surprise.
Washington State – Florida State (6:00)
Will either of these teams be able to score in 2010? The Cougars lose Kiersten Dallstream while FSU are without Jessica Price and Tiffany McCarty for 2010. The Seminoles are trying to avoid taking a big step back in the ACC while their hosts for the evening are looking to stamp their credibility as perennial contenders in the always difficult Pac-10.
Boston College – Stanford (7:00)
Stanford will bring to Chestnut Hill enough firepower to sink an armada while Boston College will have plenty of weapons of their own. It’s time for BC to prove they’re one of the elite teams in the nation, and they can take a massive step by downing a Stanford team trying to prove they can hit the same heights of recent years without Ali Riley and Kelley O’Hara.
Cal – Loyola Marymount (7:00)
Cal should win this match convincingly although Loyola Marymount are better than they might look on paper. Then again, Cal made a habit of losing matches they should have won convincingly last season. Everyone from Berkeley is preaching a happy and unified camp, but actions will speak louder than words if they hit a speed bump during the season.
Florida – Miami (FL) (7:00)
The Hurricanes usually play the Gators tough, regardless of venue or talent level. This year in Gainesville, Florida should have a decisive advantage with tons of returning offense but do have some holes on defense to fill. Miami may struggle to get to mid-table in the ACC but still have plenty of players good enough to give most teams fits. Given Florida’s tendency to get off to some slow starts in non-conference matches, an upset isn’t out of the question.
Georgia – Duke (7:00)
Steve Holeman begins his first season in charge of his third SEC program with a stern test in the form of ACC contender Duke. Georgia is still smarting from 2007?s NCAA Second Round defeat in Athens and 2008?s 3-0 beating in Durham but many of the key players from those encounters are gone. Both sides should be featuring talented freshmen who could boost each team up their conference standings come the end of the season.
NC State – Texas (7:00)
Texas would seem to be due for a rebound after a painful season in 2009, but they’ve scheduled a tricky task for themselves in their 2010 opener. NC State are looking to make a climb up the ACC table and the scoring duo of Paige Dugal and Kara Blosser may have the offensive chops to make it happen. Texas keeper Alexa Gaul may find herself with more work to do than she may like.
Tennessee – Western Kentucky (7:00)
The Hilltoppers set up a grudge match for their season opener when they shocked Tennessee in Knoxville in their spring friendly, 3-1. With Angela Kelly feeling the heat in Knoxville, anything less than victory will heap the pressure on the Vols as they seek to avoid another season out of the NCAA Tournament. Western Kentucky has enough talent to show that the spring was no fluke.
West Virginia – Penn State (7:00)
Penn State usually has the more talented team, West Virginia usually gets the win when the teams meet. The gap in talent between the teams may be as big as it has been in a while, with the Nittany Lions home to a potentially explosive offense and West Virginia struggling through their two preseason matches. There’ll be groans and bad memories of 2009?s poor non-conference slate from Penn State faithful if they don’t get the W here.
Ohio State – Wisconsin-Milwaukee (7:30)
This one’s probably a lot more close to even than you think. Pundits seem to be divided on Ohio State this season. Some think they’ll be contending for a Big Ten title. Others think that like in past years of yo-yoing up and down the standings, they’re due for a fall after a strong 2009. Sarah Hagen of Wisconsin-Milwaukee will ensure misery for Lori Walker’s Buckeyes if they aren’t on their game right off the bat.
Oklahoma State – Oklahoma (8:00)
For sheer novelty value if nothing else. These teams will play twice this year, home and home, but only the second match will count in the Big XII standings.
Texas A&M – North Carolina (8:30)
North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance has probably put his new recruits through the ringer in pre-season as they prepare for an assault on a third consecutive national title, but nothing can prepare the freshmen for the eye-opening trip into Aggieland to begin their college careers. A legion of thousands will be waiting for the two-time defending national champs as the Aggies have their best shot in beating Carolina in quite a while. Also watch ex-UNC player Merritt Mathias aim for a little revenge against her former team.
Santa Clara – San Diego State (10:00)
Santa Clara might be a year away from contending for a national title, but two straight wonderful recruiting classes have infused the Broncos with scores of young talent. Their opponents on opening night looked set for a sleeper run at the College Cup until injuries and defections ravaged the roster. They still have enough talent to trouble Santa Clara if they’re looking forward though.
Shameful Moments in Non-Conference Scheduling History:
Maryland – Iona (7:00 PM) – Maryland are an up and coming ACC team that made the final sixteen last year and are a dark horse for reaching the College Cup this year. Iona have won twenty-one matches in four years and had their best RPI finish in four years at 213 last year. The other three years? 278, 262, 252. Yikes.